By John Denton
December 9, 2011
ORLANDO – Dwight Howard slowly pulled his dazzling white Maybach into the Amway Center early Friday afternoon, which seemed like a victory in itself for the Orlando Magic considering the rumors and speculation swirling earlier in the day.
Then, following a 3 ½-hour practice and another 30 minutes of free throw shooting and embracing Magic chairman Dan DeVos and CEO Alex Martins, Howard fielded questions about his future in Orlando, only he didn’t clear up much in the process. Howard chose to talk more about the here and now instead of the present, refusing to confirm or deny rampant speculation that he might be in his final days, weeks or months with the only professional franchise he’s ever played for.
But by the end of Friday as the night melted into early Saturday morning, word emerged that Howard's agent, Dan Fegan, had secured permission from Magic President of Basketball Operations/GM Otis Smith to begin negotiations with three other teams about a possible trade. Fegan -- and not Howard -- was given permission by Smith to discuss the parameters of a potential deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Nets and Dallas Mavericks.
The Magic will ultimately hold the trump card on whether or not to trade their four-time first-team All-NBA center. A source close to the negotiations said that Howard has repeatedly changed his mind about whether he should leave Orlando or stay in the past four days. Now, the team is at least exploring what compensation it could get if it decides to deal the superstar center.
As expected, Howard was coy following the Magic's practice about his future plans.
``Right now, we’re in Orlando,’’ said Howard, who was wearing a vintage gray and black Magic hat. ``We just had practice and that’s all that matters. Nothing else matters beyond today and this moment. We had a great practice and we’re looking forward to Day 2.’’
Howard did admit that Friday’s start to training camp was unlike any other in his seven-year NBA career, and that analysis had little to do with just 12 people available and practice starting in mid-December because of a five-month lockout. Howard admitted that avoiding distractions is difficult with the suffocating national media coverage speculating about his future.
ESPN.com reported in the early hours of Friday morning that Howard had requested a trade to the New Jersey Nets. Howard danced around the subject, saying he pays little attention to unsubstantiated stories about him.
``I don’t too much read or look at ESPN because there’s no point,’’ Howard said. ``Rumors and sources say this and that, but until you hear it from the horse’s mouth or see something happen then you will know that it’s happening. That’s how I see it. People are going to say whatever or do whatever, but until it happens, that’s when it matters.’’
The Magic signed rookies Justin Harper and DeAndre Liggins early in the day, inked make-good deals with Larry Hughes and Gabe Pruitt and waived Gilbert Arenas through the amnesty clause, giving them 12 bodies in practice. Head coach Stan Van Gundy said the team was in surprisingly good shape considering it hadn’t played a NBA game in seven months. Van Gundy, who proudly ended the practice 11 minutes short of 3.5 hours, also lauded his team’s concentration in the face of swirling speculation.
``We’re professionals here – they’re professional athletes and we’re professional coaches, so you come out here and do your job. This might be a little crazier than usual, but there are always distractions,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Like I told somebody earlier in the day, `The NBA is a three-ring circus right now and we’re under the big top.’’
Speaking about his future for the first time in several months, Howard was asked about a variety of topics following Friday’s first practice. Here is a just a sample of some of those questions and answers:
- On whether he met with any other team Thursday night in Miami as he was celebrating his birthday: ``I have not had any conversations with anybody. If my agent has or anybody that I’m associated has then you would have to talk to them about it. Yesterday was my birthday … I’m 26 … so I had a good night.’’
- On whether he planned to ask the Magic at any point for a trade: ``I plan on going home and getting in my bed. I just had a 3 ½ hour practice and I’m ready to go home, eat, play some Call of Duty and get in the bed. I don’t plan on doing any talking except to the people who I am going to play online with.’’
- On his recent conversation with former Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide at 1 a.m. in the morning: ``Me and Bob have had a lot of conversations on the phone and in person. Whatever we talk about we keep that between each other. I don’t know where it came from or how it got out. The only that matters is what happens on the floor.’’
- On the internet reports that he plans to fire his agent, Dan Fegan, and have his father ask the Magic for a trade: ``You (media) heard it just like I did and (Dwight Sr.) felt the same way. He was like, `Wow, I’m going to be your agent?’ My dad is not my agent, he’s my father. That’s all he wants to be and doesn’t want to be my agent or my manager. He just wants to be my father.’’
- On whether he needs another superstar player with him on the Magic in order to keep him in Orlando: ``I am No. 12 for the Magic. I’m not the general manager, I’m not the owner and I don’t make final decisions. My job is to put the ball in the basket, block some shots and have fun.’’
Howard didn’t look like he was having much fun on Friday and has already grown weary of the questions about his future. Only five more training camp practices, two preseason games, 66 regular-season games, an All-Star Weekend in Orlando and the playoffs to go. At some point Howard will have an answer for the Magic about his future, but Friday apparently wasn’t the day for that.
``As of right now I’m here and that’s the only thing that matters. And that’s it,’’ he said with a long sigh.
John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org
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